Understanding diversity to enhance team performance

You have probably worked in teams before. Naturally, two team members are never identical as we are all human, which in the end makes every team diverse.

But is it better to have a more diverse team? Or do too many cooks spoil the broth?

Especially in an organizational context, lately diversity has been heavily discussed. Many organizations promote diversity as they believe they will get more output. It is believed these teams will achieve more, contributing to the bigger organizational goal. Cross-functional teams are created to achieve functional diversity by putting together people with different educational background and specialization. But is more diversity actually a good thing? Is there any proof for this? Or are they just blindly following this trend and wasting resources?

First of all, we have to build a common ground and establish what diversity actually is. This very broad term is often used to describe different things. Generally speaking, diversity describes how similar an individual is compared to the group.

Second of all, researchers often identify several types of diversity. Mainly demographic and functional diversity. Demographic diversity describes the difference of individuals in terms of gender, age, and ethnicity. Functional diversity on the other hand describes educational differences, background, and specialization. A lot of existing research has separated these types of diversities. They either study what happens to a group of only young males, or only lawyers. But almost all of this research is flawed. You cannot separate these types of diversities, as we are all different and to account only for one aspect is nonsense. That is why the results of existing research do not match with reality.

Knippenberg and Schippers (2007) reviewed lots of research on diversity in much more detail. However, the main finding is that the established typologies of diversity (demographic and functional) do not explain why some teams perform better or worse. We have to move beyond simple definitions of diversity. Research should not look at only one aspect of diversity and think this will apply to everyone. We cannot continue to follow the advice that is flawed and waste so many resources to establish the most diverse teams. At least not until we learn more.

Is team diversity promoted at your organization?

SourceE: van Knippenberg, D., & Schippers, M. C. (2007). Work Group Diversity. Annual Review of Psychology58(1), 515–541. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085546



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